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2013 and earlier

Mexico: a beginner's guide

Chris Moss introduces you to the highlights of the world's most populous Spanish-speaking country.

Cortés and his men had easily toppled Moctezuma II in the 16th century, but the Spaniards were less prepared for the 1810 uprising led by parish priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla in the little Guanajuato town of Dolores. Independence was declared in September 1810.

Top five attractions 

  • The Silver Cities of the centre and north (Zacatecas, Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende) to brush up on Mexico's colonial history and the struggle for independence.
  • Baja California for a great drive and sea fishing in the Gulf of California (aka Sea of Cortéz).
  • Mexico City's old quarter around the Zócalo.
  • Chiapas and the syncretistic religion of nearby San Juan Chamula.
  • The atmospheric Mayan ruin of Palenque.

Best city 

Oaxaca: it is laid-back, boasts a large centre dominated by colonial architecture, and is one of the country's gastronomic and artistic centres.

How will Mexico be celebrating independence? 
Fiestas, music, marches, booze and a big dinner: the ultimate patriotic dish is chile en nogada, which is made from mild chile poblano, pomegranate seeds and milky walnut sauce, and so apes the Mexican flag colours of green, red and white. The most populous Spanish-speaking country in the world has a double whammy this year. It is 200 years since the birth of its independence movement, which is celebrated every September 16: a major fiesta for Mexicans, not least in Dolores Hidalgo, where the president gives a speech and the church bell is tolled at the hour. It is also 100 years since the start of the popular uprising that led to the overthrow of the dictator José de la Cruz Porfirio Díaz – the Día de la Revolución is celebrated annually on November 20.

Souvenir to buy 
Tequila with a worm in the bottle, or a high-class mescal.

Quirky Mexico 

The country's obsession with death gives rise to all sorts of odd customs, from the National Museum of Death in Aguascalientes to jelly moulds in the shape of wreaths.

Read 
‘Sliced Iguana’ by Isabella Tree covers the teeming cultural confusions of the capital as well as the psychotic ones induced by the peyote cactus.

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